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Feb 4, 2013 07:52 AM

What is the origin of this term?

How did it come about that "86" means the kitchen has run out of something; take it off the menu?

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  1. Quote: "This seems to be the most widely-accepted explanation,
    and may even have some proof to it.
    Ribeye steak
    (sometimes other items are used,
    depending on which story you read)
    was item number 86 at Delmonico's.
    On one, or more, occasions, they ran out of item "86",
    which somehow became shorthand for running out of anything."
    Now someone just needs to find an old Delmonico's menu.

    1. I come from a military family. I was told the term came from the code to get rid of something ( like parts). AT -6 actually not 86. We always used that term in my house but it wasn't so common among civilians.

      4 Replies
      1. re: sedimental

        I know that, in the navy, to "deep six" something is to get rid of or sink it.

        1. re: mucho gordo

          The military is full of codes, abbreviations and terminology. Sometimes they make their way into everyday civilian vocabulary. My bet is that it came from the AT (allowance type codes) from the Navy.

          Maybe it just came together when an e-fuzzy went AWOL and section 8'ed in a local bar and was 86'd. That's where I think it came from ;)

          1. re: mucho gordo

            "Deep six" derives from needing at least six fathoms of depth to dump something overboard.

        2. Wikipedia has a few stories about the origin... the one I heard first was that is was the address to Chumley's, a noted speakeasy in NYC located at 86 Beford St.

          Info here:

          The 2006 book "The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York" by author Jef Klein tells the story that, when the police would very kindly call ahead before a [prohibition-era] raid, they'd tell the bartender to '86' his customers, meaning they should scram out the 86 Bedford door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance.

          My guess is any or all of these could be true.

          1. Whatever the origin of the use the term in that sense, it's confusing, because the original meaning, long in widespread use, is to indicate that a person is to be refused service at a bar. Kitchens ought to have their own jargon for running out of something, in my opinion.

            Servers in restaurants never (in my experience) tell a customer that an item is 86'd; they will say "we're out of that." But any customer in a bar knows the meaning of "so-and-so has been 86'd."

            2 Replies
            1. re: GH1618

              That's interesting. I've never heard the phrase in relation to a bar patron before, and yes, I've closed a bar or two. I have heard it used in reference to food before, but not from the serving staff while dining. More than likely from friends in the service industry or in tv/film.

              1. re: GH1618

                I've mostly heard it in terms of being barred from a casino. Say for a suspected card counter or someone who is winning more at the tables than the casino would like.

                I have never heard it used in a restaurant kitchen. We always just said, we were out of something.

              2. Not for nothing that Maxwell Smart was known as Agent 86.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Steve

                  Ha! Never put those two together before; and I'm an ex-waiter and Get Smart fan. Thanks Steve!